Programmable thermostat cuts energy costs

4 models to fit your lifestyle

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What if I told you it would be possible to slip an extra $180 in your pocket this year — and every year after that — and have a more comfortable home at the same time? That should be worth a trip to the home center, right?

A savings of $180 a year is what the U.S. Department of Energy estimates the average homeowner can achieve by installing and maintaining the settings on a programmable thermostat. And the great thing is, once the settings are programmed in, you can forget about them, so your house stays more comfortable, day and night, all year long.

Programmable thermostats are simple to understand. They control your home’s heating and/or cooling systems by adjusting them to specific preset temperatures at specific preset times. No more fiddling with temperatures or forgetting to turn the heat down when you go to bed or leave for work. Just set it and forget it.

The four different modes

Programmable thermostats have four different time and temperature modes programmed in, and that’s what makes them so convenient and easy to use:

Wake: This mode is used to select the time that you normally get up in the morning, and what temperature you want the house to be at that time.

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Day: If you leave for work at a specific time, this setting will lower the heat down to a specific temperature and hold it there while you’re away. For air conditioning, it will raise the temperature setting and hold it there.

Evening: This setting is for when you return from work in the evening, and the thermostat will bring the temperature in the house back up to a comfortable level (or, in the case of air conditioning, down) before you get home.

Sleep: Set this time for when you normally go to bed. The thermostat will set the temperature down (or up for AC) to whatever level you set and hold it there until the Wake cycle kicks in again the following morning.

In addition to these four basic modes, there are overrides as well. You can tell the thermostat to temporarily override the program and raise or lower the heat or the air conditioning until the next cycle starts, for those times when you’re home and you want it a little warmer or cooler. There’s also a "hold temperature" mode for use when you’re on vacation, so you can set a higher- or lower-than-normal temperature while you’re gone and the thermostat will hold that indefinitely, regardless of the four different cycles.

Four different models fit your lifestyle

There are four basic types of programmable thermostats available, depending on the needs of your particular lifestyle:

7-day: The 7-day model allows you to program the four modes individually for each day of the week, and often with different settings within each of the modes. These models allow you the most flexibility, and are the best choice if you work odd hours, multiple shifts, have children at home at different hours, or otherwise keep a schedule that’s not really consistent. As you might imagine, 7-day thermostats are the most complicated to program initially, and are typically the most expensive of the four types of thermostats.

5-1-1-day: A 5-1-1 thermostat is for people who keep a pretty consistent schedule during the week, but want some flexibility on the weekends. The thermostat can be set up for five days all the same, typically Monday through Friday, and then Saturday and Sunday can each be set up with individual programs.

5-2-day: These thermostats provide for one set of program settings for the five weekdays, and a second set of program settings for the weekend.

1-week: These thermostats are the least flexible, so consequently they’re the easiest to program and typically the least expensive to purchase. They have all four modes, but utilize the same time and temperature settings for all seven days of the week. They’re a great choice if you’re retired, or for anyone who’s home most of the time.

Cost and installation

Programmable thermostats are available in both low-voltage and line-voltage models, and range in price from around $35 to more than $300. In addition to the features described above, there are other bells and whistles, including wireless operation, exterior temperature connections, dirty-filter warnings, low-battery warnings, and more.

Many of these thermostats are designed for do-it-yourself installation, with clear instructions and only basic tool requirements. Most require that you simply remove wires from the existing thermostat and reconnect them to the new thermostat. However, some of the more sophisticated thermostats can have multiple wire connections and complicated settings, and require professional installation. If you have any questions or concerns, discuss them with the dealer where you purchase the thermostat or with a licensed HVAC contractor prior to beginning the installation.

Remodeling and repair questions? Email Paul at paulbianchina@inman.com. All product reviews are based on the author’s actual testing of free review samples provided by the manufacturers.

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